What Is Hybrid Homeschooling and Can School Choice Programs Pay for It?

Brendan Clarey | September 21, 2023

(Chalkboard News) — As Chalkboard has previously reported, parents and voters have been outspoken in their desire for school choice and education options since the pandemic. Hybrid homeschooling is one of the models parents are turning to, which offers some of the structure of formal programming with at-home instruction.

But the intersection between new education models and funding programs to support families could be more complicated, according to a Monday report from ExcelinEd. The report highlights how state school choice programs can support families who hybrid homeschooling to give them greater flexibility. 

What is hybrid homeschooling? It doesn’t fit easily into the categories of traditional schooling, where kids are away all day, and homeschooling, where kids are at home all day, says Michael McShane, director of national research for EdChoice. McShane wrote “Hybrid Homeschooling: A Guide to the Future of Education,” which was published in 2021 

“For me, for the purpose of my book, when I talked about hybrid homeschooling, I said it was an educational environment where kids spent one day a week in formal, regular classes outside their home,” McShane said. “Usually, most of them spend two to three days at home and the other two to three days at school a week.”

McShane said the number of days away often increase as students get older. 

Hybrid homeschooling isn’t new, McShane told Chalkboard. The system of educating kids in formal classes for a few days a week and at home the other days started in the 1990s in Texas and Colorado. What’s not clear is exactly how many students are using the system now. 

“We don’t have any really good data on how many people are doing hybrid homeschooling,” said Ben DeGrow, senior policy director for education choice at ExcelinEd and author of the report released Monday. “But parents say in surveys that they want options.”

“If we’re interested in giving families the ability to customize their children’s learning, we should make sure to keep hybrid homeschooling on the table,” DeGrow told Chalkboard in an interview.  

DeGrow said states like Arizona and West Virginia that are less prescriptive about private school seat time and have fewer regulatory burdens for parents have seen more hybrid homeschooling programs pop up.

McShane agreed that states could make it easier for families looking to use hybrid homeschooling if they use competency-based standards instead of seat-time requirements for students. McShane also said restrictive homeschool laws and regulations could determine whether parents decide can start programs.

“One of the appeals of the hybrid homeschool arrangement is flexibility with some structure,” DeGrow said, adding that parents who work from home may want a similar situation for their kids. 

McShane echoed the flexibility aspect and said some parents may want to have their children’s education fit into the rhythms of the family instead of fitting the family into the traditional schooling model.

“And the price point is good,” DeGrow said. “While it costs more than traditional homeschooling, the price point is lower than traditional private school.”

That means if families receive $7,000 in an education savings account and spend $4,500 on hybrid homeschooling costs, they have the remaining funds available for other academic interests or pursuits, DeGrow said. 

“ESAs are almost perfectly tailored to hybrid homeschooling, as opposed to vouchers which had no flexibility,” McShane said. 

“Hybrid homeschooling represents a nontraditional approach to education that ESAs are well suited to underwrite, giving families a mixture of stability, affordability and flexibility,” DeGrow writes in the report. “While the option is not yet widely known, it is one that many parents are open to exploring.”

“But not all ESA programs operate equally in this regard,” DeGrow writes. “While some programs embrace homeschool participation, not all allow families to use ESA dollars to educate at home. Others do allow homeschoolers in but add extra burdens for those who apply.” 

As Chalkboard has reported, six states have expanded school choice programs to allow all students to use public funds for private school tuition or homeschool expenses through ESAs, with four doing so in 2023. 

A total of 15 states have some kind of ESA program, but not all of them have a category for hybrid homeschooling, according to ExcelinEd’s report. 

To make it easier for hybrid homeschool families to access ESA funds, the report encourages lawmakers and state leaders to consult with homeschool associations, maintaining the legal status of homeschool students who do not take ESA funds and allowing students to attend public schools on a part-time basis.